“Thunderbirds aren’t go” was the initial ungrammatical idea for the title of this post, based on an article in Thursday’s Online Guardian which asked “What future has the Thunderbird email program got?” in light of the departure of the two paid programmers who were working on the project (and discussed on the Guardian technology blog).

I installed Thunderbird a couple of year’s ago with high hopes, as it comes from the same stable as Firefox. I quickly became disillusioned, though, partly because I didn’t like the interface and partly because of various bugs or limitations I encountered, but primarily because of its lack of support for a calendering tool. I soon went back to Outlook, which I use to synch with my PDA and mobile phone.

I had been told that a calendering tool which would complement Thunderbird was on its way – but the Guardian article also mentioned that this product (Sunbird) has been discontinued. This feature has, sadly, been shown to be vapourware.

Has Thunderbird shown itself to be a fad, without even being fashionable (in mainstream circles)? I think this would be an inappropriate response. As Ross Gardler pointed out recently, it can be counter productive to dismiss applications using phrases such as ‘it’s merely fashionable’ or ‘it’s just a passing fad’. Rather, some deeper thinking is needed – and maybe software which fails to become fashionable but works for particular groups in niche areas can have a role to play.

Or perhaps, as Ryan Paul suggests, Thunderbird still has potential to fly despite developers leaving the nest. And interestingly the article suggested that Thunderbird’s focus simple on email might be a barrier and pointed out that the developers “had the team for developing … a stand-alone desktop e-mail application. But we didn’t have the complete set of people to address both that and the larger issues. Without some new impetus, Thunderbird would continue in a status quo pattern.” Thunderbird with a means of integrating with Facebook – now that would be an application I’d like to try out – and could leave Outlook in the dust.

Speculation, open to discussion, I feel. What is less open to dispute is that the success of the FireFox browser has not been replicated in the email environment. And we do need to have decision making and selection criteria which recognises that success in one area does not necessarily guarantee success in another.  Time to update the QA Focus document on “Top Tips For Selecting Open Source Software“.